This list may seem exhaustive, but they are all bits and pieces that we have learned about, researched, or discovered on our own. It’s a good starting point for those who want to live a more intentional and environmentally aware life. Obviously, we have a ways to go still, and follow those who have paved the way before us for other tips and tricks. Trashisfortossers is a great resource, both the blog and her instagram, which provided a solid foundation for us at the outset of our journey to waste-free living.
So, to begin, we can start with the most prevalent source of waste: food. Many people eat take out regularly, or buy prepackaged food items at the grocery store. Though it may not seem like much, all of that plastic wrapping adds up and bogs down our landfills. Although it can take more time initially to get in the hang of waste-free living, preparation alone solves most issues. Instead of take-out, opt for dining in instead, and don’t forget a spare Tupperware or mason jar to put leftovers in. At said restaurant, when ordering drinks, ask for no straw. One time use plastics like straws are one of the main sources of waste in this country. And we always carry a spare coffee mug and water bottle on us for drinks. If we are out at a coffee shop and want to grab a quick pastry, we ask them to place the pastries or cookies or what have you in a cloth napkin that we carry around.
For those who like to cook at home more, gathering dinner ingredients in bulk is key. We go to Whole Foods or any other natural grocers that sells bulk items and fill our own mason jars with the various flours, beans, rice, sugar, oats, dried fruits, spices, coffee, and loose leaf tea we need. To make it easier, have the cashier weigh your mason jar prior to filling and write the tier in permanent marker on the jar. Then you can use a funnel to easily fill the narrow mouthed jars with goods. At our grocery store, we can also buy olive oil, honey, maple syrup, vanilla, and balsamic vinegar in bulk and fill up our jars as mentioned above.
For commonly packaged foods like tortillas, naan, bread, and pasta, we make our own from scratch instead. It may seem daunting, but just a little flour, water, eggs, or yeast go a long way. And if we don’t feel like baking bread one day, we take our canvas bread bag to whole foods and buy a freshly baked loaf. We also use the same bag for cheese, freshly cut at the deli counter. We buy eggs maybe four or five times a year from a local farmer who reuses customers’ paper egg cartons. If we want to make cheese, we buy milk in a glass jar that can be returned for the dairy farmer to refill. And for everyday milk, we make almond milk by blending soaked almonds and water, and then straining out the meal.
For produce, we use knitted bags for all of our fruits and vegetables. There are some herbs that aren’t available without plastic packaging (rosemary, basil) but we grow those on our patio. This past year, a good portion of our produce was grown in our community garden or picked with the urban fruit share program. So most of our fresh produce and now canned goods weren’t from any grocery store. When able, we buy produce at the farmer’s market to support the local food movement. Produce at farmer’s markets also doesn’t have stickers or rubber bands that also create waste. And one of the biggest keys of waste-free living is composting. Because we are vegan 95% of the time, all of our food scraps are safe for composting. We have two small metal composting buckets on our porch that we fill and take to our community garden compost pile.
For cleaning, we use a white vinegar and baking soda blend for everything. This mix and an old towel or metal scrub brush can make any surface spotless. For dishes, we no longer buy sponges and instead use a metal scrubber and soft scrub brush that is completely compostable. For dish soap, we buy bulk Dr. Bronner’s soap that we can refill at a local shop. We don’t buy paper towels, and use cloth towels instead. The only paper product we still buy is toilet paper which you can buy wrapped in paper instead of plastic.
Our laundry detergent is a blend of washing soda (baking soda cooked in the oven) and bar soap. If clothing needs pretreatment such as whites, we pretreat with distilled white vinegar before washing. We hang dry all of our clothes so don’t require dryer sheets.
Our bath products are quite simple. I use a shampoo bar that comes wrapped in paper (easily compostable), soap that comes sans packaging, and an apple cider vinegar based detangler. For a little something special, we buy bath salts in bulk at Whole Foods that we can put directly in our mason jar. For toothpaste, we mix baking soda, water, and peppermint oil in a small glass jar. And our go-to lotion is the trashisfortossers recipe of equal parts cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, and almond oil. And we opt out of perfumes, deodorant, make-up, and other hair products.
If you are squeamish, skip to the next paragraph. For that time of the month, we transitioned over to Thinx underwear and cloth sanitary napkins. I know other women who use the diva cup or other forms of reusable menses equipment.
For the holidays, waste tends to creep up readily, especially in the form of gift-wrapping. For the last two years, we have kept newspaper left over from junk mail and used it to wrap presents. We don’t use tape, and instead keep the paper wrapped with old reused ribbon or twine that also adds a cute touch as a bow. We try to buy waste free gifts, as well, such as a “spa basket” of bulk bath salts, fancy soaps, homemade candles, and homemade mason jar recipes. Our families have heard our soapboxes enough, and know that we prefer experiences rather than gifts and are incredibly adamant about not giving something just to give something. Instead we focus on spending time together and spend that money on a show or concert.
There are of course products that we haven’t figured out a way to avoid some form of packaging. Things we buy in glass jars that we either reuse or recycle include molasses, canola oil, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and curry paste. Things we buy in bulk whether online or Costco that have some form of wrapping are listed below:
- Cocoa butter and shea butter- we ordered a god awful number of pounds of this stuff that will take us at least four years to use up, but it came in a plastic bag
- Baking soda and baking powder- from Costco, but come in plastic jar/bag
- Yeast packets- I’ve used maybe three packets over the last year
- White vinegar- We buy the largest plastic bottle possible and recycle the bottle
- Butter- wrapped in either foil if vegan butter or wax paper that is compostable if dairy based butter
In the future, we will continue to strive for waste-free living. We have plans for homemade beeswax candles (you can buy a bar of beeswax without packaging at Whole Foods) and cocoa butter based lip balm. Once I run out of spare toothbrush heads, I plan on switching over to compostable bamboo toothbrushes. For pens, I have researched refillable fountain pens with glass ink jars that are refillable. There are a few stationary stores here in SLC that hopefully have what I’m looking for. There will always be challenging obstacles but with preparation, determination, and passion, anyone can live a waste-free lifestyle.